The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is looking to bring in new regulations to the tourism sector and make all short-term property rentals in the province — including Airbnb listings — register for a licence.
The Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation has proposed amendments to provincial legislation in order to do so.
"We're going to be making some changes that will allow us to work with Airbnb and other operators like that, to bring the short-term accommodaters into better line with the current operators that we have that are licensed," Tourism Minister Bernard Davis said on Tuesday.
If the legislation passes, Davis said Airbnb operators will have to register with the province, and the government will work with Airbnb itself so the website only allows regulated hosts to post listings.
There will be no fees associated with registering, although a licence will give municipalities the opportunity to know who is operating in their jurisdictions, and tax accordingly.
"The benefit that it gives to the province is that it levels the playing field for those operators that are doing everything above the board, meaning they are licensed accommodaters," he said.
Davis said the issue isn't with Airbnb itself, noting there are many licensed properties across Newfoundland and Labrador which list rentals on its website.
But Davis said the government wants to ensure a certain level of quality across the board for visitors.
"We've developed a brand in this province that a lot of our operators and accommodaters have helped us develop, and we don't want that jeopardized by people having a bad experience because those operators are not licensed and don't provide that level of quality that we would like," he said.
A welcome change, a few questions
Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador has been pushing for such changes for several years, to ensure unregulated Airbnb hosts have to follow the same rules as its regulated members.
Chair Steve Denty told CBC News Tuesday's announcement is a positive step for the industry.
"Quality assurance, first and foremost, is number one for us. It's always an important part in the industry," Denty said.
Without proper regulations it is a buyer-beware situation, and there's less quality control. - John Norman
"As well as the economic support for communities, there's tax base there. There's a lot of things that legitimate professional tourism operators have been held to in terms of standards."
In Bonavista, a small town with a big tourism sector and many rental options, both regulated and not, the mayor is cautiously optimistic of the changes.
"Basically the devil is in the details. I'd like to see more details," John Norman told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, wondering what paperwork will be involved and whether inspections will be part of the process.
Norman also runs several rental properties through his company Bonavista Living, and hopes the new rules create a better standard for unregulated rentals. He has felt the headache of meeting the requirements of building codes, Service NL, and other bodies in the past as he went down the licensing route.
"We have had to spend significant time and money to do this, and I've always been more than a little bit irritated that some can just open an accommodation and not have to jump through any of these hoops, while some of us who go through the registered route spend sometimes not just weeks and months but a couple of years getting all this work done to officially operate as a registered business," he said.
"Without proper regulations it is a buyer-beware situation, and there's less quality control," he said.
Airbnb operator gives OK
Some Airbnb hosts also welcome the changes.
Gordon Martin works with both licensed and unlicensed operators, and said a lot of hosts have been waiting for a more streamlined and modernized approach to regulations.
He also said moving away from the Canada Select model — a consumer rating program that provides travellers with a consistent standard of quality for accommodations — is a positive move. In Newfoundland and Labrador, accommodations needed one star under Canada Select to become licensed, a barrier that blocked some Airbnb hosts from doing so.
"The Airbnb operators throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, whether they're in the city or in rural Newfoundland, they provide a lot of value and benefit to the communities both in terms of bringing tourists into the small communities as well as keeping the money in those communities," Martin said.
Martin said most operators are looking forward to working with the provincial government on proposed changes, but one thing he doesn't want to see is Newfoundland and Labrador's approach scaled to a national level.
"Every province is different," he said. "But I think it should be in alignment with all other operators in the province."
The department is using public engagement to develop an online questionnaire for accommodation operators. Details on the engagement process will be available soon.